Up to 20,000 additional trips being made on SkyTrain and West Coast Express per weekday due to high gas prices

Sep 28 2022, 8:53 pm

Metro Vancouver’s public transit ridership recovery continues to not only lead North America, but it is now comparable to the recovery seen in European cities.

During today’s quarterly TransLink board meeting, Kevin Quinn, the CEO of TransLink, shared that the overall network ridership recovery has reached 77% of pre-pandemic volumes as of September 2022. This is up from 72% in June.

This is also equivalent to TransLink’s historic ridership volumes experienced in 2010.

Currently, about 330,000 people are using public transit daily on average, with an average of 74% for weekday journeys, 83% for weekend journeys, and 83% for rider recovery.

According to TransLink, it is the first system amongst its Canadian and American counterparts to reach an overall ridership recovery of 75%. Other major Canadian and US systems are currently in the 60% to 70% overall ridership recovery range.

In comparison, many European cities are currently experiencing a ridership recovery rate of 75% to 90% for the reasons of lower levels of private vehicle use and a greater return of workers to offices.

TransLink has noted there has been an increase in office workers using public transit in September, especially on SkyTrain and West Coast Express.

As of mid-August, Expo and Millennium lines had reached 76% of ridership recovery, Canada Line reached 70%, and West Coast Express, which primarily serves office workers in downtown Vancouver, went up to about 40%. Bus ridership recovery is now hovering above 75%, while the SeaBus is similarly at 73%.

translink ridership recovery september 2022

TransLink ridership recovery, August 2022: Average weekday boardings recovery. (TransLink)

translink ridership recovery september 2022

TransLink ridership recovery, August 2022: Average weekday journey starts by area. (TransLink)

translink ridership recovery september 2022

TransLink ridership recovery, August 2022: Average weekday journey starts by area. (TransLink)

Overall demand for travel within Metro Vancouver likely remains lower than before the pandemic because of the continued impact of semi-remote work from home. Overcrowding on the bus system is significantly lower than in 2019, but it has been steadily increasing as ridership continues to return.

Interestingly, the ridership recovery to date is strongest in Surrey, with Surrey City Centre now reaching 97% of pre-pandemic volumes in mid-August — and up 10% from May 2022. This is followed by Surrey North at 83%, and Surrey Fleetwood at 81%.

New Westminster, Burnaby North, Burnaby South, Richmond, and the Vancouver Southeast are in the 72% to 74% range.

The University of British Columbia’s Vancouver campus’ recovery was hovering at 70% in mid-August, while Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby Mountain campus is at 60%.

As of mid-August, downtown Vancouver’s recovery was 61%, but despite its lower recovery, it of course still has a relatively high average weekday ridership that is exponentially larger than any other area of the region.

Ridership increased as summer progressed, with good weather and the first return of some of the region’s largest major events and festivals since the pandemic’s onset.

Early this year, TransLink projected ridership will further recover to 80% to 90% of pre-pandemic volumes by the end of 2022. But TransLink now notes there is “a critical unknown” about how far into the fall season this recovery trend will continue.

“TransLink’s current working assumption for forecasting is that, at some future point, the recovery will slow down considerably and effectively plateau,” stated Sarah Ross, the vice president of transportation planning and policy at TransLink.

For the time being, soaring gas prices have also had a noticeable impact on ridership. TransLink estimates high prices at the pump have resulted in an additional 10,000 to 20,000 journeys on weekdays in Spring 2022. This likely increased throughout the summer, with gas prices peaking in late June and early July. TransLink defines a “journey” as a public transit trip, regardless of the number of transfers.

Quinn also highlighted the success of its pilot project of the 900 Bike Bus mirroring the No. 620 route between SkyTrain Bridgeport Station and BC Ferries’ Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. It operated on Fridays, weekends, and holidays only from July 1 to September 5, with hourly departures on four buses retrofitted with interior bike storage. According to Quinn, the pilot project period recorded about 3,100 passengers and 1,300 bikes.

As well, Metro Vancouver Transit Police provided a public safety update during today’s board meeting. Over the first half of 2022, there were 150 “disturbed person” incidents on the public transit system, representing a 19% increase over the same period in 2021. The number of mental health act apprehensions — relating to disturbed persons, suicide, and other reasons — went up by 36% from 107 incidents in the first half of 2021 to 146 incidents in the first half of 2022.


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